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How to Finish a Basement- A Step-By-Step Guide

Basement Remodeling Westminster CO

Before starting your basement remodel project, read this step-by-step guide on how to finish a basement to help you through the detailed process.

Basement finishing first steps

If you have an unfinished basement and need some extra space in your home, getting your tools together and putting some work into finishing your basement can be the perfect solution for your space need.

It’s worth mentioning that while it might sound cost-effective to opt for a DIY basement finish, this is not always the case. Basement finishing is a complex task that requires an advanced level of DIY experience to complete it successfully. You typically have to work around obstructions like heating ducts, water pipes, plumbing drains, gas lines, and electrical wires and ensure you do not cause any damage. So, unless you’re quite certain of your skill level, it might be better to hire a professional design-build company for the project.

That said, if you’re going the DIY way, our basement finishing guide will be sufficient to take you through the process from start to finish. From the floor to the ceiling and all that’s in between, you’d see your basement transform from that old, abandoned space to a new, appealing one that you’d be eager to spend some time in.

Basement Finishing Overview

We can divide the entire basement finishing process into three general steps, which are:

  • Wall Finishing
  • Ceiling Finishing
  • Floor Finishing

Tackling each of these phases one at a time will make the process much easier and help you achieve better results. Before beginning your basement remodeling, there are certain things to do to prepare your basement space for the work. These include:

Cleaning the Basement

The first thing you want to do is to thoroughly clean your basement and get rid of all the junk, like boxes, bins, and other items. Keeping the work area clean prepares it for the task ahead and helps you uncover any issues or maintenance jobs that need to be taken care of.

cleanup before finishing a basement

Conduct a Moisture Test

After cleaning, check carefully for leaks and moist areas. If you’re unsure about the condition of your basement, performing a moisture test can help you find out whether you have a moisture problem. You can also hire an expert home remodeler to identify the moist spots and fix them.

Conducting basement renovation without taking care of its moisture issues can easily ruin your hard work and prevent the materials used from lasting a long time. As a result, you’d end up spending more fixing the damages and will eventually have to take care of the moisture to prevent further damage.

Once you’ve fixed the moisture problems, you also need to waterproof your basement floors and walls to prevent future damage to your finishing due to moisture. You can follow the tips below to waterproof your basement.

  • Slope soil to channel rainwater away from your foundation walls
  • Redirect water from the lawn to drain away from your basement
  • Clear clogged gutters and correct any installation errors that cause water to run toward your house
  • Apply a concrete-patching substance to seal small cracks or gaps around pipes.
  • Apply waterproof paint or coating on the interior walls.
  • Install a drain that takes water to a pit with a sump pump or the storm drain

Before Finishing Your Basement Apply for a Permit

The next step in the preparation phase is to apply for a permit for your basement remodel project. Getting a building permit from your local government is essential as it ensures that the job is done correctly and in compliance with current building codes, thus guaranteeing safety.

If you proceed without a permit, it could cost you headaches and a lot of money down the road, especially when you want to sell your house or if an incident that requires showing the basement finishing work documents should occur. To avoid this stress in the future, simply visit your local government’s website for the application procedure.

Choosing the Right Materials

Once you get the permit, it’s time to choose the materials and style for your basement remodeling. Do you want a drop or an exposed ceiling? Will the wall be plastered or made of drywall? You need to make these decisions to help you have a mental picture of your desired design. Also, specifying the materials you want to use helps you know the cost estimate for the project and see if it’s within budget.

choose the right basement finishing materials

That said, the areas you’d need to decide on before commencing include the following:

  • Insulation type
  • Wall material
  • Ceiling style
  • Flooring type
  • Utility locations
  • Paint colors
  • Trim styles

When you have these laid out, then it’s time to gather the tools you will need.

Tools Collection

There are many tools you need for basement finishing, depending on what you want the results to look like. However, generally speaking, the tools you’d need are:

  • Caulk gun
  • Circular saw
  • Masonry drill and bit set
  • Hammer
  • Dust mask
  • Hearing protection
  • Safety glasses
  • Insulation adhesive
  • Level
  • Ladder
  • Sawhorses
  • Stepladder
  • Tape measure
  • Utility knife
  • Framing Nailer or Nail Gun
  • Drywall jack

As explained earlier, the entire process will be divided into three stages, wall finishing, ceiling finishing, and floor finishing. Each stage has its steps, and we’ll walk you through the process.

Basement Wall Finishing

Install Insulation

The first thing you want to do is install insulation on your basement wall, and one of the most effective ways to achieve that is by using polystyrene foam insulation.

Simply measure the space from your basement floor to the ceiling, then subtract ¼ of an inch. Cut your polystyrene foam insulation with a utility knife (or a circular saw) to that length and place it against the wall. Make sure to wear safety goggles for safety reasons when handling polystyrene foam insulation and using a saw.

  • Hold the cut sheet against the wall, making sure it fits properly.
  • When you’ve positioned the foam well, apply insulation adhesive to its back to glue it to the wall.
  • Press the foam insulation against the wall for the period of time recommended on the adhesive bottle.
  • Repeat the process for each cut sheet until you have completely covered the walls.
  • Once you’ve successfully installed the foam, seal the seams between each piece using duct tape.
  • Afterward, fill the seams between the insulation foams and the ceiling, floor, and corners with foam filler or caulk.
installing basement insulation

Frame the Walls

  • Draw a line on the floor, leaving four inches from the walls. Ensure that the line intersects the walls at a 90-degree angle.
  • Cut all your 2×4 to the measurement of your wall and do this twice for each wall since these will serve as your top and bottom plates.
  • Then mark your plates at every 16 inches for stud positioning. The 16-inch mark is the point the center of the stud should be placed. You can choose to extend the line drawn to the sides of the plates to help you see it clearly. This wouldn’t be an aesthetic issue since the lines will be hidden when you place the stud over it.
  • Lay the bottom plate to align with the line you drew in step one.
  • Hold the bottom plate to the concrete floor with your masonry drill and nails starting at either end. Using your 16-inch marks, add supporting nails to keep the plate firm. Make sure to maintain safety during this process by using your protective equipment as you’ll be drilling through cement.
  • Once you’ve installed the bottom plate, proceed with installing the top plate following the same steps as you did with the bottom plate. However, you should use a nail gun for the top plate instead of a masonry drill.
  • Attach the wall joists to your top and bottom plates at every 16 inches using a framing nailer. Move the wall joists as required to make room for doors and windows.
  • Make sure your plates are level and balanced. If you’re finding it difficult to level specific spots, use shims (a thin piece of wood that help with spacing) to get the desired result.
  • Measure the space between your plates and cut your studs to the proper lengths.
  • Install the cut studs by aligning them with the earlier-made 16-inch marks. Don’t forget to insert the nails on each side of the stud at a precisely 45-degree angle using your nail gun.
  • When you’ve successfully installed the first frame, simply repeat the same steps until you have framed all of your walls.

Install Utilities

Now that you’ve framed the wall, it’s time to install all utilities that will run inside the walls, such as electrical wires, plumbing pipes, and air duct work.

Now at this point, you want to hire a professional to handle the job because of the high risks involved and its strict regulations. You can proceed with the rest of the basement project all by yourself once the professional completes the installation of utilities.

Mount Drywall

There are many reasons most people choose drywall over plaster, with installation costs being the top. Drywall is made out of a soft material called gypsum which doesn’t crack. It offers more thermal capabilities and provides better insulation. Plaster, however, dries much harder than drywall and proves to be more labor-intensive and expensive. For home use, drywall is a good option, while the plaster is a more practical option for commercial buildings.

To install your drywall, you should first decide if you want to hang it horizontally or vertically. Typically, both directions have their benefits, and going with what works for you will be sufficient. Hanging your drywall horizontally offers benefits such as:

  • Reducing the lineal footage of seams by about 25%, thus resulting in less taping and a more appealing finished job
  • Hiding uneven studs
  • Making your finishing job easier

With commercial buildings, the drywall must be installed based on fire codes which often demand that seams should fall on the entire length of the framing.

  • Measure the drywall and ensure each piece will end on a stud.
  • Cut the sections accordingly using your utility knife and remove areas where utilities need to be exposed.
  • Secure the drywall to the stud using drywall screws and a drill. Be careful not to tear the paper surface of your drywall as you drill and screw.
  • Fill in any seams and screw heads with caulk and then apply drywall tape to the seams and screw heads to cover them. Repeat the process until you’re done finishing your basement wall.
choosing paint for basement finishing

Paint

  • Gently use sandpaper on the spots you applied drywall mud to smooth them out.
  • Finally, apply your preferred paint color to give your basement wall a more appealing aesthetic.

Basement Ceiling Finishing

There are three finishing options for a basement ceiling, which are drop-ceiling, drywall ceiling, and open ceiling. Your ceiling finishing helps you hide things like wires, vents, and pipes that are on the ceiling yet gives you access to these utilities whenever you need to do maintenance work.

Each finishing option has its benefit and installation instructions, and their difficulty level also differs. Leaving your ceiling open is the easiest and least expensive one, while open drywalling is the most difficult.

Drop-Ceiling Installation

Drop-ceiling is a cheap and easy option, and it requires it requires an installation kit. It nicely covers exposed pipes and wires and still gives you access to them when needed. The fundamental idea behind a drop-ceiling installation is the same, even though there might be little differences depending on your choice of kit.

Typically, you install a second ceiling below the structural ceiling, enabling you to easily access the utilities above them. The process involves using a series of interlocking frames and tiles to achieve the desired result. Here’s how to install a drop ceiling.

  • Purchase the drop-ceiling installation kit
  • Install L-channel frames on the walls.
  • Install T-channel frames along floor joists and ensure they connect to the L-channel frames.
  • Snap the T-channel cross frames into position between the full T-channels.
  • Place the drop ceiling tiles in the frame.

Some of the benefits of choosing drop-ceiling include:

  • Easy access to structural components – you only need to pop a tile out to access utilities.
  • Improved soundproofing
  • Increased energy efficiency
  • Brighter interiors
  • Easily repairable
  • Improved hygiene – if you’d be adding an extra kitchen or bathroom in your basement, a drop-ceiling might be a better ceiling option due to the ease of treating mold and bacteria. Kitchens and bathrooms are humid places that tend to have mold and bacteria growth which can be dangerous to our health.
installing drywall ceiling in basement

Drywalled Ceiling

The second ceiling option for your basement is drywall. Drywall installation is similar to how you install basement walls, which has been explained earlier. The benefits of using drywall include:

  • Offering greater protection
  • Built-in health and safety features which make your basement safer (e.g., it’s fire-resistant)
  • Easily repairable
  • Reduced tendency for mold and bacteria growth
  • Sound and temperature insulation.

The steps to install your drywall are as follows:

  • Mark and cut holes in your drywall sheets for utilities.
  • Apply adhesive to the joists where you want to hang the sheet of your drywall. Start in a corner and move all the way out.
  • Press the drywall against the adhesive to secure it.
  • Use a T-brace to maintain pressure on both ends of the drywall, or simply ask a family or friend to help apply the pressure while the adhesive dries.
  • At every seven inches around the walls, nail or screw the drywall to the joists. For interior joists, you can install fasteners keeping 12-inch increments.
  • Repeat the same steps until the ceiling is completely covered with drywall.
  • Fill seams and nail/screw heads with caulk
  • Apply drywall paint to the seams.
  • Paint once the caulk has dried.

Open Ceiling

The third ceiling option for your basement is the open ceiling. An open ceiling is just as the name suggests; a ceiling left open. This option gives your basement an industrial appearance, as open ceilings are most common in industrial buildings. The open ceiling option costs very little to do as you wouldn’t be purchasing any ceiling materials.

However, one downside of this option is that your wood beams, piping, and other utilities will be entirely exposed when you look up. If this isn’t a big deal to you, then you might consider using the open ceiling option. There’s a way to make things look more appealing when using an open ceiling too, and that’s by painting the ceiling. This way, the ceiling, and your utilities blend together (especially when you use dark colors), and they look less exposed. Paint all the sides of your electrical wires and pipes and not only the exposed part. That’s because if you paint only the visible part, the hidden, unpainted part may start showing with time.

Basement Floor Finishing

With your walls and ceilings finished, it’s time to move to the last part of the project- floor finishing. There are many finishing options at this stage, too, so you can go with anything that works for you. Some popular options include concrete, tile, carpet, hardwood, etc. Statistically, around 57 percent of basement flooring projects involved the installation of carpet or laminate.

Advantages of popular floor finishing options

  • Concrete flooring – durable, invulnerable to moisture damage and mold, versatile, and easy maintenance.
  • Vinyl Flooring – waterproof, durable, and come in a variety of colors and styles
  • Carpet Flooring – Cozy feel and offers great cushion for hard basement floor
  • Hardwood Flooring – High-end look and feel, and can match the rest of your home’s flooring
  • Ceramic tile Flooring – Water resistant and high-end look and feel

The installation details of each flooring option vary, so you need to decide on what your basement floor would look like to know how to effectively install the material. Nonetheless, there are certain general steps to take before installing any flooring material, and they are as follows:

how to finish a basement floor

Install Subflooring

Your basement floor will likely be a slab of cement unless it has been previously finished. If it’s a cement slab, you need to install a subfloor to enhance comfort, dryness, and warmth.

  • Apply a self-leveling compound to dips deeper than 3/16-inch to create a flat surface.
  • Allow the compound to dry, then check the dips again to make sure they are level. If not, repeat the process until the desired result is achieved.
  • Glue sheets of polystyrene insulation to the cement floor with an adhesive.
  • Lay plywood sheets on top of the insulation.
  • Install the plywood on the insulation to the ground with a masonry drill and concrete screws.
  • Now you have a subfloor ready for your choice of floor finishing.

Install Flooring

With your subfloor done, it’s time to install your flooring. Follow the installation instructions on the flooring option you choose, or consider using the help of a professional if you aren’t sure about how to go about it.

With your floor installation completed, you now have a perfectly finished basement ready to provide maximum comfort for any purpose you designed it.

Install sufficient lighting and bring in furniture, and choose any decor style that suits your personality. Remember, you can use your basement for just about anything. Whether it’s a game room, wine cellar, or theater, it’s all up to you.

Contact Northbuilt Construction for a professional basement renovation contractor in Louisville, Colorado.

Up Next: Bathroom Remodeling: A Step-by-Step Guide

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